Malala begins the chapter by noting that the Taliban “took our music, then our Buddhas, then our history.” She elaborates that the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist statues and monuments where Malala used to play as a child. In 2007, they obliterated a Buddhist statue that had been standing in the Swat valley since the 7th century. The Taliban also banned various childish games that it considered to be against the Quran. To Ziauddin’s amazement, almost no one spoke out against these injustices, and people were willing to submit to the Taliban’s rules. Ziauddin, by contrast, continued to write articles and op-eds for the newspapers, and use his popularity and charisma to speak out against the Taliban.
One reason the Taliban are such a dangerous enemy is that they are the ultimate combination of “church and state.” Thus they justify all their political actions with religion, and so basically bully and coerce other Muslims into stepping in line with their fundamentalist views. The Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhist statue is a different kind of horror from their violence and oppression—it is an attack on culture and history itself. The statue was older than any human, but it has been destroyed by human ignorance and hatred.
Malala notes that all of Pakistan seemed to be going mad in the early 2000s. The Taliban ordered all women to wear their burqas at all times. Groups of women covered with burqas would break into Western restaurants and music stores and destroy everything there. As Musharraf became more vocal in his support for the United States, the country became more extreme in its political and religious views, and there was even a plot to blow up Musharraf’s mansion.
The country is basically turning on itself, and this self-division echoes in the attitude of Pakistani women toward the Taliban. Amazingly, millions of women join the Taliban in attacking Western stores and restaurants. They seem to accept the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam, and so even consider themselves inferior beings, ones best suited to martyrdom.
By 2007, when Malala was ten years old, the situation in Pakistan had escalated to the point where it was feared that Taliban soldiers would take over the capital city of Islamabad. On July 12—Malala’s birthday—a large group of Taliban supporters, including many women, marched through Islamabad, declaring war on Pakistan’s government. There were suicide bombers throughout the country, many of whom were women. These women claimed that Fazlullah had taught them that it was noble to martyr themselves. In response to the constantly escalating violence in the country, Musharraf decided to step down as president. Surprisingly, the United States arranged for his replacement to be Benazir Bhutto, Musharraf’s old political rival. The plan was for Bhutto and Musharraf to cooperate with one another and help the US. Ziauddin was certain that this deal would fail, since Musharraf and Bhutto despised one another.
The government’s measure to restore order in the country—installing Benazir Bhutto as the new president—seems destined to fail, both for the reasons that Ziauddin names and because we’ve seen enough evidence already that the country is in chaos. People are willing to suffer and even die for their cause—indeed, thousands of women are willing to blow themselves up in order to advance the Taliban cause. These acts of destruction are at once impressive and terrifying, and offer a horrific reminder that devotion to a cause need not be a virtue. Malala is highly devoted to the causes of equality and freedom—and the women who blow themselves up in the streets are just as devoted to their cause of radical Islam.
On October 18, 2007, Benazir Bhutto returned from a long period of exile. Malala and millions of other Pakistanis watched television footage of her arrival. Suddenly, to everyone’s shock, there was an enormous explosion in Bhutto’s bus. 150 people were killed, but amazingly Bhutto wasn’t one of them, since she’d left the bus only moments before. Militant Islamists, Malala explains, had engineered the bombing.
Bhutto’s assassination attempt is a mark of how chaotic Pakistan has become in only a few years. The American involvement in Pakistan has given the country a jolt—a reminder of the Russians’ involvement in Afghanistan only fifteen years previously. The people of Pakistan are justifiably wary of Westerners as dangerous invaders—and the only other option seems to be the Taliban.
Shortly after the failed attempt on Benazir Bhutto’s life, the Pakistani national army arrived in Swat. Musharraf—still a powerful force in the government—sent 3,000 troops to Swat to protect the people from the influence of the Taliban. Every night, Malala heard the sounds of gunfire and explosions. Within only a few weeks, much of the Pakistani army had defected to the Taliban’s side. Musharraf responded by sending more soldiers to the area—this was somewhat successful, though Ziauddin warned that the Taliban would “return with a vengeance.”
The Taliban, we’ve already seen, are far too powerful to be scared off by only a few days of fighting with the army. The Taliban they have thousands of devoted members willing to lay down their lives, and it is an ominous sign that many of the Pakistani soldiers actually switch sides and join the Taliban, instead of fighting against them. At this point the Pakistani people are basically choosing between different evils: there is no good option.
On December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto held a rally in which she claimed that she would fight the forces of extremism and militancy in Pakistan, especially the Taliban. As Bhutto fell silent, there was a gunshot—someone had assassinated her. Malala was heartbroken when she learned of the assassination, as she had thought of Bhutto as a defender of women’s rights. Afterwards, Musharraf blamed the Taliban for the shooting, something which—very unusually—the Taliban denied. To Malala’s horror, many of the mullahs in her community took the position that Bhutto’s death was a good thing: she’d been profaning the Quran. Ziauddin told Malala that she would have to learn to interpret the Quran herself.
Bhutto’s assassination is a tragedy in many respects. It marks the death of a brave and peaceful politician who, by Malala’s account, fought for women’s rights and democracy in Pakistan, but it also suggests a more personal tragedy for Malala: she’s lost an important role model, a symbol of what women could achieve. This is very discouraging, but Malala continues to struggle to do good—in this case to defend Islam against the extremists corrupting its teachings.